As central Tripoli comes under greater threat of devastation, other parts of the country appear to be attracting investment. Misrata, once known internationally for suffering a protracted siege in 2011 by Colonel Mu’ammar Qadhafi’s regime, is once again a bustling commercial centre. While Benghazi which, in the eyes of the US since 2012 has become synonymous with terrorism and insecurity, has received significant foreign investment to rebuild the city after the 2011-2017 period of near-constant conflict. Shiny new taxi cabs line the re-paved streets and residents flock to new shopping centres filled with international brands.
The price of this rebirth has been militia domination. In Misrata a diverse group of militias ranging from secular to Salafi jihadi dominate the area and in Benghazi the repressive Libyan national Army (LNA) is the authority. By contrast Tripoli — under the UN recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) — is loosely controlled by a group of militias in constant competition with each other. Even if Khalifa Haftar eventually retreats after several recent setbacks in his war to take over the capital, there will still be a high degree of risk of militia infighting.
The relative stability of the modern city states of Misrata and Benghazi attracts investment but the risks associated with these investments are very high because of the militia domination that has allowed this relative stability. Turkish and Emirati companies in Misrata and Benghazi respectively have been willing to take the risks given the countries’ close historical and ideological ties.
It was surprising, however, that in February 2019 the Texas-based security firm, Guidry Group, indicated its desire to develop a deep sea port at Susah which is 40 kms east of al-Bayda and 60 kms west of Derna. The project is deeply problematic because of its proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Greco-Roman city of Cyrene and the nearby semi-submerged ancient port of Apollonia.
Its success, which could be a major boon for eastern Libya’s weak and small private sector, is heavily dependent on the outcome of the political conflict. For one thing the Guidry Group has been negotiating this contract with the unrecognised eastern government. If Haftar’s Tripoli offensive should fail then the credibility and legitimacy of the eastern government would be in even greater doubt, and put any contract that it signed for the project at risk.